Friday, March 31, 2017

Protest Last Sunday was Greatest in Places Where Duma Voting Share was Lowest, Study Finds

Paul Goble

            Staunton, March 31 – “The greatest protest activity on March 26 occurred in regions which had shown the lowest level of participation the 2016 Duma elections,” according to new big data research by Sigma Expert and reported in today’s Vedomosti by journalist Anastasiya Kornya (

            “In nine of the ten cities with the greatest share of participants in the meetings as a percentage of the total number of residents, participation in the elections was lower than for the country as a whole.” Among these cities were Smolensk, Komsomolsk-na-Amure, Chita, Vladivostok, and Perm. The exception was the Daghestani capital Makhachkala.

            Everywhere but there, elections expert Andrey Buzin says, it has been true since Soviet times that “non-participation in elections was a form of protest.”  (For a study confirming that, see Jerome M. Gilison’s “Soviet Elections as a Measure of Dissent: The Missing One Percent,” American Political Science Review, 62: 3(1968), pp. 814-826.)

            Nikolay Petrov of the Committee of Civic Initiatives points out that “the list of cities with high meeting activity to a large extent also corresponds with the top of ‘the tension rating’” compiled by his organization.

            This connection is important and explains why Vladimir Putin and his entourage are so focused on ensuring that the Kremlin ruler gets not only a super-majority in the upcoming elections but does so with a high level of participation across the country, the goal being 70 percent on each of these measures.

            But Sigma Expert’s use of big data also provides other insights into the ways in which people were mobilized to take part in the protests. “In contrast to the winter of 2011-2012 when Facebook was the main place, in 2017, the VKontakte network was the main instrument of mobilization,” the journalist writes.

            And that explains why Navalny’s effort was so successful in reaching out to so many places: Only half of the 20 cities where the largest demos took place have a Facebook presence whereas VKontakte was an is “everywhere.”  And that explains something else: the relatively small presence of bloggers in the leadership of Sunday’s actions.

‘A People Coming Out of Jail Laughing has Already Won,' Belarusian National Congress Leader Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, March 31 – All too many observers have concluded that Alyaksandr Lukashenka by his repressive moved before and during the Belarusian demonstrations over the weekend has achieved what he did in 2010, re-instilling fear in the Belarusian people and ensuring that they will not soon challenge him again.

            That is all the more so because the opposition has not scheduled any more demonstrations until the beginning of May, a delay that those who think Lukashenka has won this round interpret as a victory but one that in fact reflects something more fundamental: Over the next few weeks, Belarusians must focus on sowing operations in their agricultural sector.

            What such people do not see, Vladimir Neklyayev, a poet who is also one of the leaders of the Belarusian National Congress who was arrested before Saturday’s protests, is that Belarus now is in a completely new situation: “No one has any fear, and no one has any doubt that what is happening are the death convulsions of the regime” (; in Russian, at

                Lukashenka by his thuggish actions is “only accelerating” the speed of his departure from the scene.  Of course, today or tomorrow, the opposition can’t force Lukashenka out given that he has tanks and military forces.  But it has something he doesn’t have and can’t obtain, the poet-politician continues.

            And that is this: “It is impossible to do anything with a people which comes out of prison laughing. Look at the way the powers that be in comparison with the people, and the people are now laughing. This too is a victory, for there where there is laugher, fear disappears and in its place arises an irresistible faith in the victory of the idea for which you are fighting.”

             It will be a good thing if there is dialogue between Europe and Minsk, Neklyayev says. But equally or perhaps even more important is “the monologue of the Belarusian people,” one in which it can “stake out its position and show its will.” That can’t happen by sitting at home. It requires going into the streets.  And that is what Belarusians are going to do.

            Belarusians are not only leaving prison with smiles and laughter; those who have not been arrested are not forgetting those who have or failing to consider those who might be. They are collecting money for the families of those incarcerated, they are writing letters to those behind bars, and they even organizing a solidarity with prisoners action ( and

                Those are remarkable manifestations of the birth or more properly the rebirth of the Belarusian nation.  And its rebirth means that those, like many in both Moscow and the West, who dismiss Belarus as an unreal nation or those, like Lukashenka, who think that they are ruling a population rather than a people are about to be surprised even more than they have been.